Down the World Wide Web
By Jim Bray
I dont know
about you, but Im sick and tired of web sites that look like they
want to win design awards.
Dont get me
wrong I like a whiz bang website as much as the next person, and
flashy graphics and animation really can add sparkle to the world wide
web. When virtual push comes to cybernetic shove, however, I dont
care how pretty a site is if all it offers me is eye candy.
The world wide web
is a wonderful way for organizations to peddle whatever message they may
have - unfiltered by editors, network executives, politicians, the competition,
or special interest groups. Its also the great equalizer, because
a small company or alternative media outlet can have just as prominent
a position, look just as professional, and even be far more relevant,
than a big established corporation or publication.
Cyberspace is truly
a five billion channel universe, though, so while there are a lot more
fish at sea as far as potential audience is concerned, theres
also a lot more bait. So once youve hooked peoples attention
at your home page, you have to keep it.
After all, if surfers
look at your Web site and go thats nice, but wheres
the beef? theyll be surfing over to your competition quicker
than you can say artificial intelligence.
The Web sites of my
home towns two daily newspapers are perfect examples. If all you
care about is graphic design, the daily broadsheet wins hands
down. It even looks like a real newspaper and you can surf from section
to section by clicking on a navigation system that looks like different
On the other hand,
if youre looking for the things you actually find in a newspaper
(stuff like misinformation, rumor, hearsay and completely uninformed commentary),
the daily tabloids site leaves the other one in the
It isnt that
you cant get the same misinformation from the Broadsheet, you just
cant most of get it online whereas the Tabloid publishes
what amounts to a virtually complete newspaper every day.
So which is the better
Web site? The one thats all form and no substance, or the one thats
all substance (well, as much as you can get from the news media these
days!) but looks like it was designed by a grade school student?
wrong with pizzazz per se, but to paraphrase Jeff Goldblums
character in the movie Jurassic Park just because
something can be done doesnt mean it should be done.
He was talking about
dinosaur DNA, of course, but the same holds true for digital dots and
Pretty pictures, extravagant
animation and nifty navigation tricks can be excellent ways to grab the
eye of the Web surfing public, but if you dont put some real and
unique content on your site all you have is a virtual billboard and a
wasted online investment.
This can be particularly
crazy if youre spending tens of thousands of dollars on your Web
site development and plan to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars
to run it for you.
Another dumb thing
some companies do is force people to go elsewhere for information they
should be giving them - like news about their products and services.
Many web sites take
the easy way out and simply add links to the manufacturers sites.
I guess the rationale is that the manufacturers probably have a bigger
budget and can create better product display sites, so it makes sense
to ride on their cyber-coattails.
Maybe. By cutting
that particular cyber-corner, however, theyve also sent a potential
customer to a web site where theyll quite possibly find links to
all the other dealers with whom theyre competing. Theyve thrown
away a potential sale; as far as the surfers Browser is concerned,
theyre now out of sight - and quite possibly out of mind.
I dont think
thats the brightest use of cyberspace.
The name of the game
is communication, not just titillation despite the abundance of
So if youve
just bought the latest version of Macromedia Flash (which I must admit
is a pretty neat piece of software) or learned to write nifty java applets,
dont forget to figure out how youre going to keep your audience
after the singing and dancing logos end.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.